Today ASC has grown into a full fledged acoustic treatment manufacturer designing and building products that address a number of acoustical needs and issues for a wide variety of clientele. Among ASC's newest product offerings is their SmartTrap line of acoustical products reviewed here. The SmartTrap family of products include, surprise, surprise, a number of TubeTraps as well as HalfRounds (289/ea), SoundPanels ($119/ea), PolyDiffusers ($229/ea) and AcousticSconces ($139/ea). ASC states that the SmartTrap family of products is aimed at providing consumers with a "complete acoustical tool kit" for any room.
SmartTrap products are available for purchase through ASC's dealer network. If there isn't an ASC dealer in your area, customers are encouraged to contact ASC to find a dealer to work through, either by phone or via the Internet. My SmartTrap review setup consisted of two 16-inch diameter SmartTraps ($488/ea), four 13-inch diameter SmartTraps ($389/ea), eight 11-inch diameter SmartTraps ($338/ea) and two 14-inch wide SoundPanels ($119/ea) for a total of 16 acoustical treatments at $5,474 retail. All SmartTraps measure three feet tall but ASC has other products that can be customized to nearly any height. SmartTrap products come in three standard finishes, black, grey and tan - with my review samples being shipped in the latter.
SmartTraps, like ASC's original TubeTraps, treat a number of acoustic issues within a single design. For starters all SmartTraps help to break up low frequency waves aka bass while also providing high adjustable frequency diffusion and absorption. The result, according to ASC, is a finely tuned sound that is neither overly damp nor bright, which I'll get to in a bit. Of course the SmartTrap's low frequency performance is dictated by its diameter with the larger diameter traps able to tame frequencies lower than those with less size to them. For instance the largest of the traps that I was sent, the 16-inch diameter full-round SmartTrap, works down to 55Hz. The 13-inch diameter traps are effective down to 70Hz with the smaller, 11-inch diameter rounds, reaching down to 90Hz. But as I mentioned above, the full-round SmartTraps also provide diffusion, which, unlike their low frequency performance, is constant, providing high frequency diffusion from 400Hz and above. Even ASC's SoundPanels help absorb frequencies from 190Hz as well as diffuse frequencies above 500Hz. All of the SmartTrap products manage to pull off the double threat, absorbing low frequencies while diffusing highs, thanks in part to their unique construction.
Before I get into what I've dubbed "ASC moving day," it's important to note that there's a lot more to the process of treating your room than simply buying and installing a couple of tube traps. For starters, ASC and its highly trained dealer base aren't about to let you address your acoustic challenges blind or even alone. Potential customers are encouraged to speak with their dealers, who will consult with ASC directly when deciding which products will work best.
For the purposes of this review ASC treated me like any other client who didn't have a local dealer; they even asked me to call in and go through a very simple yet cordial question and answer session with an ASC project advisor. Afterwards, the ASC project advisor instructed me to make a detailed drawing of my room, complete with measurements, indicating every opening, hallway, window, cubby etc. Along with my drawing they asked me to stand in the middle of my room and with a simple point and shoot camera (I used my iPhone 4) take a series of photographs that would give the folks over at ASC a 360-degree view of my room. Once completed, I sent both the drawing and photos over to ASC via email and in a little over 24 hours received a response. Surprisingly ASC's initial response didn't include any recommendations for which products to purchase; instead it was a list of suggestions of how I could improve my room without spending a penny. Wow.
A few of the suggestions were a bit drastic, such as moving the entrance to my kitchen, but I appreciated ASC's attention to detail. I found out later that many of the suggestions came from Mr. Noxon himself, which was doubly cool for very few founders have anything to do with their own companies, let alone get their "hands dirty" these days. After a few brief email chats between myself and ASC explaining what I could and couldn't accommodate in terms of modifications to my room/home, they were ready to make their recommendation(s). A few days later I received very detailed CAD drawings of not only my room but of the various SmartTraps located within and how I should arrange them based on the unique properties of my room.
Truth be told, the suggestions and arrangements seemed a bit dramatic for I was prepared for ASC to come back with a pretty basic layout - traps in the corners, panels on the first and second order reflections and so on. Instead I got a schematic suggesting a layout unlike anything I'd ever seen and something that was 180-degree different than what was recommended to me by GIK Acoustics, who originally did the acoustical design of my room. I contacted ASC after receiving the drawings to ask them about their unique plan and they told me that for the absolute best performance in my primary listening position I should set up the various traps as suggested but they also encouraged me to experiment too. A few weeks later 13 boxes arrived with the various SmartTraps inside.Read more about the set up and performance of the SmartTraps on Page 2.
One by one I unpacked the entire lot of SmartTraps and one by one began placing them about my room, first in accordance with ASC's recommended setup and later in a more generic fashion. ASC's proposed arrangement dictated that I put the larger 16-inch SmartTraps in the left front corner with the slightly smaller 13-inch SmartTraps in the right corner to combat the fact that I had a large opening leading into my kitchen three feet off my right speaker. Next, they had me stack the remaining two 13-inch SmartTraps atop each other and place them dead center of my back wall or in line with my primary listening position. From there I was to place four, 11-inch SmartTraps, two per side, in line with the front baffles of my Bowers & Wilkins loudspeakers. ASC included two SoundPanels to rest above my bookcases located on my back wall for additional absorption and diffusion. Unpacking the various SmartTraps and placing them about my room took some time but wasn't difficult at all and frankly was kind of fun. Later on in my evaluation I went with a more traditional and symmetrical setup, which meant putting a single 16-inch SmartTrap in each of the front corners of my room with a single 13-inch stacked on top. I left the rear mounted 13-inch SmartTrap stack alone and positioned the remaining 11-inch traps behind my left and right speakers as well as at my first and second order reflection points.
I used the SmartTraps exclusively in my reference room using only my reference equipment, which consisted of my Bowers & Wilkins 800 Series Diamond loudspeakers, Krell Evolution 3250e amplifier, Decware CSP2 tubed line stage, Apple TV/Cambridge Audio DACMagic combo and Sony universal Blu-ray player. Cabling throughout consisted of Transparent Reference.
Commenting on the performance of acoustical treatments is a bit different than, say, a Blu-ray player or a power amplifier, for acoustical treatments have no sound of their own. Instead they should allow you to hear new sounds and/or aspects of your favorite recordings that may have been previously garbled in poor room acoustics. Based on this, ASC's SmartTraps hit a veritable home run for they manage to clean up the bass, improve focus and even boost your room's sense of air and space, which means dynamics - especially macro dynamics - also improve. Improvements in my system's bass response were the most notable, improving in both depth and detail and possessing a firmness that was a step beyond what I was getting from my GIK Tri-Traps - though to be fair the 16-inch TubeTraps are a bit larger in surface area and thus can break up and absorb more of the wave. With the TubeTraps in the corners of my room low frequencies were more palpable and organic versus simply being deep - or should I say, deeper.
The other noticeable difference to my system's sound once the ASC products were installed was the added sense of air and space that seemed to surround virtually everything within the soundstage, especially vocals. The sonic effect wasn't subtle and at times felt as if my room had grown by several feet in every direction, yet even with the added "space" there was a greater sense of focus. Vocalists especially felt more grounded not just in terms of their placement within the center of the soundstage but grounded in the room itself - like they were standing in front of me.
I should point out that while I spent considerable time with the SmartTraps setup in ASC's recommended configuration I found that I preferred the sound of my room when I positioned the SmartTraps in my room in a more traditional manner. It's not that ASC's suggestion was wrong or produced poor results, quite the opposite really, it's just that ASC's recommended setup was aimed at providing my primary listening position with the absolute best performance absolutely. However, since my reference room is not a dedicated room and is in fact my living room, ASC's layout didn't really allow for a great deal of livability within the space when using it for anything other than listening to music or watching movies. Thankfully, the SmartTraps are easy enough to move, which allowed me to experiment easily and freely.
Overall, I found every claim ASC made about the SmartTrap's
performance, either on their website or via email, to be true. Unlike
pairing the wrong amp with the wrong loudspeakers there is nothing
harmful that will come from treating your room - in fact you have
everything to gain.
While ASC may have chosen to take me close to the pinnacle of what was possible in my room by sending me 16 different acoustic treatments, that doesn't mean your room will require as much or that you even have to play host to as many treatments. You can easily start with a couple of FullRound TubeTraps in your front corners and build from there as time and money allows. That's the beauty of room treatments; each time you decide to take the next step you're able to appreciate the differences they make and believe me when I say the differences you'll hear when using ASC's SmartTraps are not going to be ones you can easily live without. If you're addicted to audiophile "tweaks" then get ready to become addicted to acoustical treatments for they will yield far greater results than any power cord, conditioner, interconnect and, in some cases, even loudspeakers will ever produce.
Competition and Comparison
There are a number of companies out there offering acoustical treatments but there is only one TubeTrap. While few competing products possess ASC's ability to offer up both absorption and diffusion in one simple package, they still manage to treat many common and not so common acoustical problems and in some cases look better and cost less.
Case in point, GIK Acoustics offers a host of acoustical products not unlike ASC's. For instance GIK sells their Tri-Trap, which is a bass trap designed to be placed in the corners of your room not unlike ASC's FullRound SmartTraps. While the Tri-Trap offers up zero diffusion, its low frequency performance is on par with ASC (down to 50Hz) and it even manages to tame some high frequencies as well. Furthermore, The Tri-Trap retails for $129 each, which is noticeably cheaper than even the smallest diameter SmartTrap ($338/ea). Plus, in the all-important wife acceptance factor (WAF) test, the Tri-Traps scored higher marks with the half dozen or so women I asked to comment. However, where it matters most - performance - I have to give the SmartTraps a slight edge, though you'll have to decide for yourself if the SmartTraps' subtle sonic benefits are worth the extra dough.
If diffusion is what you're after, then GIK offers three different diffusion products, the GridFusor ($49.99/ea), Q7d Diffuser ($349/ea) and QRD Diffuser ($129/ea) Both the Q7d and QRD offer up superior performance (on paper) compared to the diffusion properties of ASC's FullRound, HalfRound and SoundPanels but at the same time going with GIK's diffusers means twice as many products (diffusers and bass traps) when compared to tackling your installation with ASC.
Other notable competitors include Real Traps and RPG. For more information on room acoustics please check out Home Theater Review's page on AV Racks, Home Theater Seating, Home Theater Furniture, HDTV Mounts and More.
When it comes to fulfilling one's objective, ASC's SmartTraps more than achieve what they set out to achieve. That being said, no product is perfect and while I cannot fault any of the various SmartTraps' performance, there are a number of details that you must consider before purchasing.
For starters the SmartTraps aren't exactly subtle nor would I call pretty. On more than one occasion guests to my home referred to them as "jumbo sized cat scratching posts." Even clad in their tan fabric finish, which blended better with my d�cor than, say, grey or black, there was no hiding them - especially when placed directly around the front baffles of my speakers.
In terms of build quality the SmartTraps are sturdy enough and feature caps both top and bottom that are better in every way when compared to GIK Acoustics' Tri-Traps; however the fabric (I feel it looks more like carpet personally) surround isn't what I'd call very high end or tailored. Seams, albeit along the back, are visible and not all together straight. Plus, ASC uses a silver brad both top and bottom to indicate which "side" of the trap is the front (diffusion) and which is the back. It's a bit tacky and in my opinion unnecessary considering there is a sticker atop each trap detailing which side is which as well as the fact that the seams always run along the absorption side.
The SoundPanels' mounting method requires you to position the mounting brackets on both your wall as well as the treatment itself, which I found to be a bit wonky. After discovering the SoundPanels' unique template and mounting instructions I simply leaned them against my wall from atop my bookcase since I didn't want to mar my new drywall for what would ultimately be a temporary solution. Most wall mounted panels, at least the one's I've come across, hang more or less like a picture where as the ASC SoundPanels mounting procedure is more along the lines of a simple HDTV mount.
Lastly, in the ever persistent battle of the sexes over just about everything - especially audio/video equipment, the SmartTraps aren't going to win any favors with significant others, unless of course your significant other is an A/V enthusiast too. ASC's SoundPanels and HalfRounds are an easier pill to swallow in terms of integrating them into a room; however I can't imagine a full compliment of full-round TubeTraps, like the ones used in this review, being installed into an environment that isn't preceded by the word dedicated or man.
Based solely on their performance, ASC's SmartTraps get my highest buy recommendation, for while other products may save you money, they can't match the performance contained within ASC's SmartTrap products, specifically their full-round TubeTraps. That being said, ASC's products are not as d�cor friendly as a lot of the competition and while they may pack a two-in-one punch there are less expensive options available-even if some of those options require you to purchase more treatments. However, if you're an audiophile or home theater enthusiast with a dedicated room and absolute performance is what you seek then I'm not sure you can do better than ASC's SmartTrap line of products.